Stalking victims failed by the courts

November 25 marks three years of the stalking law following the successful All Party Parliamentary Stalking Law Reform Inquiry. Paladin, the first National Stalking Advocacy Service was the launched in July 2013. Both are heralded as significant steps forward for victims of stalking.

Having campaigned for this law, as well as for the new domestic violence (DV) offence of coercive control (which will come into force by the end of the year), it’s important to focus on the reality of what happens once stalking cases get to court.

The first point to make is that too few stalking cases actually make it to court. Paladin’s report ‘Stalking Law Two Years On’ highlighted that currently only 1% of stalking cases are being prosecuted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). In those few cases that are prosecuted, Paladin’s evidence shows that unduly lenient sentences result. This is hardly surprising given the lack of training for judges, magistrates and court staff and that there are still no sentencing guidelines for stalking. Rather surprisingly, new laws and sentencing guidelines do not go hand-in-hand.

This has been raised in Parliament numerous times and was raised yesterday, November 24, in the House of Lords by Baroness Royall, Nye and Brinton, who we are extremely thankful to. The issue of police and CPS training was debated again and Lord Bates highlighted that the Sentencing Council are responsible for sentencing guidelines but he will ‘look into this point’.

Our DV Law Reform Campaign and the DV law was also discussed – again sentencing guidelines will also be needed. Much like the stalking law, the new law will focus on the pattern of behaviour and impact of the offence. Currently, for stalking, this is in no way reflected in the sentencing outcomes.

Take the case of Kristine Carlson, a US author and her daughter Kenna, who were stalked for seven years by a man they met on a flight from LA to London. Mark Jury sent her thousands of emails and hacked her social media. He sent flowers, chocolates and abusive messages to friends and work colleagues.

He targeted her daughter Kenna and tweeted: ‘Going to f*** [her] every day for the rest of her life’. Jury made it clear he would visit them and in 2011 he flew to California. He used the internet to attack her about her work, her role as a mother and her business.

He set up false Twitter accounts pretending to be Kristine in order to make detrimental comments on her behalf. Jury demanded £150,000 to stop his targeted campaign. Kristine was terrified for her own personal safety and that of her daughter and hired a private detective for protection.

Kristine likened her ordeal to ‘emotional rape’, a term which resonates and one which I hear victims repeatedly use. It can also be murder in slow motion.

Last week Jury was sentenced to four and a half years at Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court. So for the seven years that he terrorised her and her daughter and the devastating impact his campaign had on them– he received four and a half.

Stalking is about fixation and obsession. It is a long-term pattern of behaviour. It is persistent, intrusive and engenders fear, alarm or distress. It results in long term psychological harm and can escalate to violence and murder.

Dr Eleanor Aston was stalked by Raymond Knight, a former patient, for seven years. It started with vandalism to her car, then to the surgery where she worked. Knight would also stand outside her house and put things through the letter-box. Despite a restraining order he carried on his behaviour, hanging around the surgery every day watching Eleanor and waiting for her in laybys. He even turned up at her daughter’s birthday.

Restraining orders were issued, breached and not enforced. He served half a prison sentence, came out and breached again. Eleanor was terrified, not just for her own safety but also for her young family. At times she was unable to work due to her post-traumatic stress and the workplace triggering it.

The second time Knight was put before a court, Judge Jamie Tabor expressed frustration that the sentence could not be for longer. Knight was put before the court in May 2013 where he was jailed for harassment (why was it not stalking?) but soon after being paroled, at the half way stage of his sentence, he sent threatening messages to Eleanor’s home and surgery.

He was then arrested and returned to prison to complete his sentence. Passing a five year jail term (this is the first case where I have seen the maximum sentence handed out, incidentally) Judge Tabor said he wished it could be longer but current legislation did not permit it. He also questioned why the law obliged him to make a new sentence run concurrently with Knight’s existing term instead of CONSECUTIVELY. This is a very good point indeed.

The maximum sentence for criminal damage and offence against property is ten years. The maximum sentence for burglary is ten years. Both crimes are acute and ‘one-offs’. Stalking is enduring causing long-term serious psychological harm. It is one of the few crimes where early intervention can prevent violence and death and yet the sentence is much less.

We are working closely with Dr Eleanor Aston to campaign for longer sentences, sentencing guidelines and new orders for stalkers along with a register for serial stalkers and domestic violence offenders.

BBC Interview with Dr Eleanor Aston and Laura Richards

By Laura Richards, Co-Founder and Director of Paladin
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